Walkman – the end

It’s official, the last ever Walkman is about to limp out of Sonycorp’s factory. Then the little portable cassette wonder will be consigned to gear history. Cue nostalgic blog about the joys of wandering round Croydon on a grey November day some time in the early 80s with my first cassette pet slung over my shoulder (yes it was the size of a small girlbag), listening to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports and getting all ambient on the Saturday afternoon shoppers, feeling even more like some kind of alien visiting earth than normal (and that was very much the usual feeling at the time).

Or running for the train from Redhill at 11:11 listening to A Certain Ratio’s The Graveyard And The Ballroom, sure that the future would be angular and angry and kind of cool looking shiny and green, just like the plastic pouch that contained the cassette that contained that oh so liberating music. Cue searches for cool looking and rather kitsch retro Walkmen to accompany this piece.
At the time, I remember, some commentators used the Walkman as a metaphor for the selfish 80s. Where before people had shared their music with each other on boom boxes now they would selfishly keep their choices to themselves and walk around in a self-centred personally soundtracked dream world, removed from the gritty reality of the streets, separating themselves from community and real life.
Now, of course, though the cassette Walkman will be no more, the idea of walking around in a self absorbed dream listening to music on headphones has become completely normal, almost compulsory on commuter-time tubes and trains. And the idea of living in a virtual world, away from real people? We’re doing it now, and spend far too much time in that other world.

And sharing music? Well, the beat box is due for a revival for sure, especially as it could replace today’s favourite sharing method, the tiny, tinny speaker on a mobile phone. Where’s the fun in listening to dubstep at low volume with zero bass? I’d much rather listen to a massive bass heavy boom box on the top of a bus, even if was playing Leona Lewis or some god-awful sick making pop r&b, than the hiss and pop and whine of the mobile phone.
So has much changed since the first Walkman strutted out of the factory onto the British high street? Not really. We still love and treasure our music. We still like to indulge alone and share it with friends. The formats have changed and so have some of the sounds, but the music still makes us feel – good or bad, angry or sad, but definitely alive.